Church Basketball and the "Contact Sport Exception"
If you live in Utah, you understand this title. Recreational basketball is fine for those athletic enough to continue playing this sport as they age. However, for the majority of men holding onto the dream they can still play competitive basketball (even though they've put on 30 lbs, can no longer jump, are desperately out of shape) you should stop and read the case of Nixon v. Clay, 2019 UT 32 (July 11, 2019).
Justice Lee's adoption of the "Contact Sport Exception" for the State of Utah is a good read (for those of us interested in this material). He notes that despite the un-sourced John McCain quote cited by counsel: LDS church basketball is a more vicious and cold blooded than Mixed Martial Arts, basketball is indeed a contact sport. After dispelling this myth of a quote, Justice Lee tackled the subject at issue in this case.
The plaintiff in Nixon sustained a serious knee injury while taking a shot in a church basketball game. The allegation was that his defender, likely another out-of-shape middle aged man, "tackled" him or fouled him in a negligent manner. The lawsuit survived long enough for discovery to be completed and a summary judgment filed. The District Court dismissed the Plaintiff's case and the Utah Supreme Court upheld this result (albeit in a modified manner).
What is the "Contact Sport Exception"? Justice Lee put it this way: "a participant in a contact sport owes a duty [to a co-participant] only if his or her conduct is willful or done with reckless disregard for the safety of another player." (citations omitted). Justice Lee and the majority of the Utah Supreme Court, while adopting this new rule, chose to modify it a bit to remove any subjective component of the tortfeasor's state of mind on the question of "intentional" or "reckless indifference."
Instead, the rule in Utah is as follows: "We instead hold that participants in sports generally have no duty to avoid conduct that is inherent in the sport. And we clarify that the tortfeasor's state of mind may be relevant but it is not a necessary element of the exception." Justice Lee then acknowledged that basketball inherently involves contact.
Basketball is, indeed, a contact sport (and much more so in the church recreational leagues) but we now have clarity that no duty is owed another player when the other lands the "hard foul" against his opponent (and likely neighbor).
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